The History Woman's Blog

On research in Paris

Posted in Early Modern, History by thehistorywoman on July 28, 2012

One of the perks of studying the English republican exiles in Europe is that I get to travel a lot. This is nice, not just because it gets me out of the daily grind of university life but also because I get to see how other people in other countries do things. One of the interesting things I learnt on my last trip to Paris is how the French ‘do’ archives and libraries, and the Bibliothèque Nationale (BnF) is an outstanding example of good service and a relaxed working atmosphere.

A relaxed working atmosphere.

By way of explanation, I should say that the BnF has several sites around Paris. The main one for those of us studying early modern history is the site Richelieu in rue Vivienne round the corner from the Louvre, in particular its oval search room, which looks a bit like the old British Museum reading room, and its Manuscripts Reading Room upstairs, where items are still ordered on slips of paper and the staff keep a close eye on how you handle the documents.

There is also the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal on rue Sully with its wonderful collection of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century printed works, including those of English and French republicans, where you can work quietly alongside another handful of historians surrounded by wood-panelled walls and well-stocked shelves. You’re also never far from a colleague sharing your enthusiasm for republican thought. Waiting on the bench outside in the sun for the library to open in the morning, I drifted into a surreal conversation with a specialist on the French Revolution who knew all about the ‘Skinner and Pocock’ stuff I was interested in. (more…)